Birth of Europe


This class covers the period from the third to the thirteenth centuries, moving from a Mediterranean world dominated by the Roman empire to one characterized by complex interactions (military, economic, cultural, scientific) between multiple kingdoms, communities, faiths and systems of belief.  Political, social and institutional developments will be addressed; literature, art, philosophy, and religion will also receive attention.

Intended as an introduction to the medieval period, no prior knowledge is expected.

We begin with the terminal phases of the ancient world. We end at a time when many of the formative elements of the world we live in today have come into existence. How can we understand the historical processes that led from one to the other? How did life, thought and belief change in these centuries? ‘The Birth of Europe’ is not simply a chance to study the foundational phase of European history it also affords students the opportunity to investigate a crucial phase of world history, the legacies of which continue to shape the world today.

In Fall 2015 subjects discussed will include:

• The ‘Fall of Rome’ and its causes.

• The barbarian peoples who would reshape the Roman West and, in turn, be reshaped by it.

• The earliest post-Roman kingdoms and the creation of new forms of political life.

• The development of late antique forms of Christianity, its growth as a sanctioned religion from the fourth century on and the  varieties of medieval Christianity, orthodox and otherwise.

• The rise of Islam, the end of the Persian empire and the seventh- and eighth-century reconfiguration of the Mediterranean world.

• The formation and fragmentation of the Carolingian empire.

• The Vikings and their Legacy.

• The Byzantine empire and the Transformation of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Students will read some of the most important (and interesting) sources for the Middle Ages in translation.

Fall 2015 will see the introduction of a substantial number of new readings including extracts from first-hand accounts of medieval life written by, amongst others, a tenth-century Arab traveller, an eleventh-century Byzantine princess, and participants in the wars of the Crusades.

Reading will not exceed 100 pages/week.

Students will take two exams, write four short (1000 word) response papers, attend twice-weekly lectures and a weekly discussion section. This class cannot be taken for C/NC.

Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
Nau Hall - South Lawn
Charlottesville, VA 22904


(434) 924-7147
(434) 924-7891
M-F 8am to 4:30pm
Department Contacts